It’s Amazing How Much The ‘Perfect Body’ Has Changed In 100 Years

It’s Amazing How Much The ‘Perfect Body’ Has Changed In 100 Years

A woman with a “perfect body” in 1930 would barely get a second look from Hollywood producers or model casting agents today.

Addiction and eating disorder recovery site Rehabs.com worked with digital marketing agency Fractl on a project looking at the origins of Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements, and how the bodies of ideal women have compared to national averages over time. And their findings show that models and movie stars are getting smaller than the average American woman at unprecedented rates.

Though BMI measurements don’t distinguish between fat and muscle, and are thus fairly inaccurate in determining whether someone is obese or not, BMI data from the past makes for interesting comparisons. According to the Center for Disease Control, the BMI of the average American women has steadily increased over the past half a century, from 24.9 in 1960 to 26.5 in the present day.

In a similar vein, Rehabs.com found that the difference between models’ weights and the weight of the average American woman has grown from 8 percent in 1975 to over 23 percent today. The bottom line? There’s more of a noticeable gap between the bodies of idealized women and everyday people.

Picking up on this disparity, brands like Dove, Debenham’s and H&M have made efforts to include diverse body types in their catalogs and ads. Organizations like The Representation Project are working to educate women and girls about media literacy and how to handle the sexualized images of women we see on television, billboards and the Internet. (Of course, we still have a very long way to go.)

In addition to the work of brands and organizations, looking back on the “ideal” women throughout the past century tells us just how arbitrary any vision of “the perfect body” is. Sex symbols have varied in terms of body shape, height, weight and tone, from the hourglass figure of Mae West to the waif-like Kate Moss. Though the diversity of these icons is limited — they are all white, and none could be accurately described as plus-size — it’s gratifying to see that different body types have been construed as sexy, and likely will be again.

Here’s how the “ideal body” has changed in the past 100+ years:

The Gibson Girl, 1900-1910s

The Gibson Girl, 1900-1910s

The “Gibson girl” was the creation of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, a type of woman that came to epitomize the ideal feminine beauty at the turn of the century. Gibson described the figure, who was tall with a large bust and wide hips but a narrow waist, as a composite of young women he’d observed.

In 1910, he told a reporter for the Sunday Times Magazine: “I’ll tell you how I got what you have called the ‘Gibson Girl.’ I saw her on the streets, I saw her at the theatres, I saw her in the churches. I saw her everywhere and doing everything. I saw her idling on Fifth Avenue and at work behind the counters of the stores.”